MISSOULA, Mont. — It was inevitable that coaches would be mildly questioned on the chippy nature of Saturday’s Little Brown Stein game, played for the 86th time between Grizzlies and Vandals who ... didn’t really like each other.
After watching his team let the moment get the best of it, commit five personal fouls, and be picked apart and squashed 42-17, Idaho’s Paul Petrino was first up.
He was asked if this one ranks at the top of the testiest games he’s been in, and at least we nudged something out.
“Yeah, I don’t know. Probably. I’m not sure,” Petrino said definitively.
I’ll take it.
A new strategy was employed with No. 6 Montana, which stayed much more contained than UI, but still got in on the late smacks and smack talk too, and committed three of those 15-yarders.
A reporter elected to ask a player this time, but phrase it more positively — working through the chippiness instead of just being chippy.
Mid-question, coach Bobby Hauck leaned to center Cy Sirmon.
“You don’t need to answer that,” Hauck said in a low voice, then relieved the big man with a pat on the shoulder. “I’ll handle it.
“We pride ourselves on playing a good, clean, hard game and playing between the whistles. Our guys are well-versed on the rules and we try to do a nice job with that.”
He stonewalled, but we got something out of it — “Well-versed on the rules” must be code for “disciplined.” They teeter on penalties to get in opponents’ heads, but seldom go too far, and never retaliate.
Otherwise, Petrino was far from talking about his team’s lack of the trait, which had been distinct throughout the year but was at its clearest against a team it surely despises.
The Grizzlies, with Mt. Sentinel looming menacingly behind a mostly maroon 22,333 in a premier environment at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, were mentally and physically imposing, but collected.
They'll take three personal fouls to show 'em who's boss, but that'll be the extent of it. They had only five penalties.
The Vandals were drawn in and eventually sunken, getting sloppier and more unhinged with each passing frame.
UM was OK to walk the line, and be called on some hard hits, gratuitous hits — hits that established a tone against an old rival and Mason Petrino, the coach’s son at quarterback who took the brunt of it, and whom those in Missoula loved to hate Saturday.
“If I’m the Idaho folks, I’m pretty proud of Mason Petrino, because he single-handedly kept them in it,” said a cheerier-than-normal Hauck, likely out of surprise at Petrino continuing to stand up. “He put them on his back.”
Petrino was in the crosshairs and noticeably distraught. He never heard the end of it en route to a four-turnover day, his fourth multiple-giveaway league game.
It’d be kind of hard to tune it out with the players on the sideline a mere 5-10 feet from the first row of fans at intimate “Wa-Griz.” UI couldn’t, notably in this venue, and of course in an important game for morale purposes.
From time to time, even some assistants could be seen responding to crowd members. Add to that the Vandals’ four false starts on miscommunications over back-to-back series in the second quarter, which killed those drives when UM was beginning to stir.
Petrino, without Aundre Carter or Jeff Cotton to help bail him out, took five sacks, a slew of hard-but-mostly-clean shots and was shaken as the local-bred Griz aimed to stick it neatly to his Montana-born father, who’d made it a point to avenge last year’s shellacking UI suffered in the Kibbie Dome.
Instead, his Vandals continued their trend as the most flagged (14 Saturday of their 93 total) — and second-most turnover-prone (19) — team in the Big Sky. For the seventh straight time in league play, they caved on the road, and couldn’t maintain poise, during and after their 10-0 start.
Safety Tyrese Dedmon, playing at his best, was penalized twice for overcelebration, once after wrestling away an interception during Idaho’s strong defensive start. That backed the offense up to the goal line.
He was tagged again after an odd taunt on a first-down pass break-up early in the third. In the process, it pushed UM’s offense ahead of its own 10-yard line and got him tossed.
The Griz were also assisted by a chirpy Jalen Hoover on their drive that kick-started an outburst of 28 consecutive points. Hoover got snappy after receiver Mitch Roberts took him over the top for 26.
Those were microcosms of UI’s inability to keep a cool head in 2019. It averages about 10 penalties per game, with personal fouls and boasting being its fortes. It's bottom-10 in the FCS in laundry racked up.
Say what you will about this league's officiating, but this was another clear case in a long line of Vandal mental implosions — assisting the opponents with their own discipline deficiency.
In the other instances, it was Idaho retaliating. Football buffs know that “the second guy always gets caught.” Montana wasn’t the second guy.
Linebacker Tre Walker wrestled with a Griz to get even twice in the second half, once on a fourth down. Both times, UM was inside the 10. Both times, it scored.
It was expected that the coaches would evade the question, but it was nonetheless amusing that they answered like nothing had happened, considering the thousands who’d watched the role played by the teams’ scorn for one another.
In other words — there was a lot of playing outside of the whistles. It’s normal, but one team knew how to temper it, then tied its biggest-ever win over its land-grant foe in the Stein's 116-year history.
The other, undisciplined in 2019 and daunted in its first trip to Missoula since '03, didn’t feel much like addressing it.
Clark may be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter @ClarkTrib or by phone at (208) 848-2260.